St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford and 4 More Who Underperformed and Must Step Up
In reviewing the abysmal 2011 St. Louis Rams' 2-14 season, it was not difficult to find players who underperformed. After all, you could probably name 40 players who could have played better anytime you look at a 2-14 team, let alone five.
That said, I wanted to focus on five Rams offensive players who are clearly capable of playing better this season than last and who could be key components for any Rams' resurgence that made take place in 2012.
If the five players detailed in the following slides play up to or near their potential this year, St. Louis could be much improved, especially when considering the impressive free-agent additions already in tow and some additional expected fortifications and talent upgrades forthcoming via the NFL draft.
So, without further delay, let us jump to the slideshow.
Lance Kendricks looked like he was indeed ready for a breakout rookie season last year after being selected in the second round and catching everything in the sight during the preseason.
However, as we know all too well, preseason play can be fool's gold for both teams and individuals, and we saw last season with both the Rams and Kendricks.
St. Louis went 4-0 in the preseason, and we all know how that translated to the regular season.
Kendricks' stellar preseason play did not transfer well either.
After bursting onto the scene with 11 catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns, the second-round tight end from Wisconsin didn't produce.
After looking like Bradford's go-to guy during the pretend games, Kendricks looked more like just another receiver with oil on his hands during the regular season.
Beginning in Week 1 in the home opener versus the Philadelphia Eagles when he dropped a sure touchdown pass, Kendricks (along with many other Bradford targets) had trouble catching the ball with consistency all year long.
During the last three games, though, he pulled in nine receptions and seemed to be settling in a bit.
With the expected emphasis that will likely be placed on the ground game, Kendricks could be very valuable down the seam off play-action passes.
He has the ability to double his rookie season catch total of 28 this year and make things easier for Bradford.
After signing blocking tight end Matthew Mulligan (who has a total of six receptions in three seasons) and when considering Michael Hoomanawanui, has incurred repeated injuries during his first two seasons, it is critical that Kendricks step up in 2012 and display the sure hands he showed during last year's preseason schedule and throughout his collegiate career.
Frank Wycheck was a similarly sized tight end (6'3' and 253 pounds) who excelled in Jeff Fisher's offense with the Tennessee Titans. In fact, Wycheck averaged 61 catches during a seven-year stretch there in a run-heavy offense.
If Kendricks can step up, he could theoretically put up similar numbers and make a big impact upon the St. Louis offense and in providing a great target for Bradford.
Rodger Saffold excelled at left tackle during his rookie season of 2010.
However, Saffold entered the year with a nagging back condition and battled numerous injuries throughout his sophomore season before landing on the injured reserve in November following a weight room injury.
Not surprisingly, Saffold's play declined as he battled the aforementioned injuries. Better health should help Saffold succeed this season.
The replacement of offensive line coach Steve Loney with Paul Boudreau should help Saffold (and the entire offensive line) improve as well.
All in all, I expect a renaissance campaign from Saffold in 2012, and that should help revive quarterback Sam Bradford as well.
Former 2009 No. 2 pick Jason Smith has suffered two season-ending concussion-related injuries in three seasons.
Largely due to the previously mentioned injury issues, Smith has played in just 29 of a possible 48 contests.
He has also struggled with inconsistent play at right tackle, especially in pass protection.
There has been talk of the Rams restructuring his contract or simply cutting the massive offensive tackle if he refuses to adjust his rookie contract.
However, a cut is looking less and less likely, and it looks as if St. Louis wants to bring him back and attempt to coach him up, according to this article from Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Although there has been much talk of the Rams drafting an offensive tackle early in the draft, that talk has sprung forth from outside the organization, not within.
The Rams may decide to go forward as is after signing versatile offensive tackle/guard Quinn Ojinnaka for depth.
Either way, if Smith can stay healthy and benefit from some expected better offensive line coaching, he could be key in 2012.
Smith has been very good and strong in the ground game but needs to improve in pass protection. He appears to have the athleticism to grow in that regard and is still just 23 years old.
If Smith can play to the expectations that made him a No. 2 pick, St. Louis could field a much better offensive line with a healthy Rodger Saffold back in proper form.
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St. Louis selected Austin Pettis in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft even though many had rated Greg Salas (whom the Rams grabbed in Round 4) ahead of him.
As the season played out, those who had valued Salas higher than Pettis appeared very wise.
While Salas impressed almost everyone before enduring a season-ending injury, Pettis was generally at least a little disappointing.
If his disappointing play were not enough, he was than tagged with a suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Considering some of his struggles to consistently catch the ball and what seemed a lack of speed and explosion, some asked if that was Pettis with extra help, what would he look like without the reported extra assistance?
Joking aside, Pettis did flash some improvement late in the season. Over his final four games, Pettis pulled in 11 of his 27 total catches.
Going forward, Pettis might not be a lock in St. Louis next year.
The man who drafted him, former general manager Billy Devaney, is long gone and new GM Les Snead and head coach Fisher may not feel much loyalty to players of the former regime, even one who was drafted early in the 2011 NFL draft.
Pettis needs to impress during the offseason and training camp to have a chance to make an impact in 2012. If not, it may be possible that he does not return, especially if a couple of wide receivers and reeled in during the upcoming NFL draft.
As most of us know, Sam Bradford regressed from his 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year form to a full-fledged sophomore slump last season.
Bradford, though, had some tough circumstances working against him last season:
- The offensive line was inconsistent and performed poorly, overall, in regard to pass protection.
- Several receivers dropped passes far too often throughout the season, beginning in Week 1 versus Philadelphia.
- Bradford had to learn a second offense under a second offensive coordinator within the constraints of a drastically shortened offseason.
- Finally, Bradford lost the steadying, reassuring guidance of quarterback coach Dick Curl, who retired.
On the other hand, Bradford has some responsibility in his depreciation of 2011.
Bradford struggled with his progressions last year and locked onto his receivers far too often. To be fair, receivers were rarely getting separation, and that could have played a role in that, theoretically.
Then again, there were many occasions when players ran open to never be seen by Bradford, who was often staring down his primary read.
When watching him closely, he rarely scanned the field. At times, one might have thought that Peyton Manning was not the only NFL QB with a serious neck injury, as Bradford appeared to rarely turn his head.
In addition to improving on his progressions, Bradford needs to up his pocket awareness as he often showed a subpar feel for what was taking place around him last season.
As touched on in previous slides, better pass protection should undoubtedly help, too. Getting a quarterback coach back on the sidelines may aid Bradford as well. Having a full offseason surely will not hurt, either.
Of all those listed in this slideshow, Bradford's bounce back to better play in the coming campaign would help make for a stronger showing by St. Louis in the won-loss column than any other Rams offensive player.
For the sake of Rams Nation, one has to hope that occurs, especially after trading the No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins presumably for Robert Griffin III.